Sanniquellie — A prosecutor and Program Officer of the Sexual Gender-Based Violence Crimes Unit at the Ministry of Justice, Att. Josephine Grose has alarmed that statistics received by her institution in 2021 singled out Sexual Violence as the most reported crime in Liberia.
Speaking to reporters at the close of a three-day Criminal Justice Chain Actors Training on Sexual Gender-Based Violence in Sanniquellie, Nimba County recently, Atty. Grose indicated that last year over 2000 sexual violence cases were reported; prompting the need for enhanced awareness and training in a bid to curb this form of violence in Liberia.
She said: "If you looked at the statistics involving sexual gender-based violence in Liberia, you would realize that it is high. For us at the Sexual Gender-Based Violence Crimes Unit at the Ministry of Justice, looking at cases that were reported last year through the police, our hotline calls, and from the Ministry of Gender, we have over 2000 cases reported".
The SGBV Program Officer at the Ministry of Justice however revealed that the Ministry does not have an identified Information Management System unique, and owing to this, she coordinates information received by her department from various agencies working with SGBV cases in Liberia.
Commenting on participants' general knowledge of SGBV issues in their respective communities, Atty. Grose contended that the justice actors, health workers, educators, Gender and Children Social Protection Workers, local county leaders and traditional leaders drawn from various districts of Nimba County presented themselves to be abreast of the issues and they were recommending minimize violence against women and girls in the county.
"As it stands, the participants are already knowledgeable about some of the human rights issues discussed", but said "there are new ideas coming up every day that the participants need to know about so they would improve their ways of dealing with these issues when the arise".
"For example, trending contemporary rights issues including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) need to be explained to the participants so they do not discriminate against them."
She however clarified that though there are no laws in Liberia that guarantee people's practice of such sexual life, there are international laws that protect LGBTs, cautioning that state and security actors need to ensure that their fundamental human rights are not violated since they are humans.
She called on traditional leaders to desist from forcefully initiating people in traditional school including the Poro and Sande societies.
"Let me make this clear, we are not against our culture, but there are other harmful practices that we are trying to curtail. We are not saying that Female Genital Mutilation is wrong, but when it goes against someone's right to consent, then there is a problem. If an adult woman wants to go to the Sande Bush willingly, it is ok. But nobody should force her to go there. On the other hand, fundamentally everyone has rights. Therefore, other people who choose to be LGBTs be protected because internationally, they are protected... so, we must respect their fundamental human rights."
Also speaking, the Sexual Gender-Based Violence Officer at the Family Health Program at the Ministry of Health, Mara K. Wamah-Worlubah alluded to the unavailability of what she termed as "One Stop Center" in some counties in Liberia, including Nimba.
The SGBV officer who also served as one of the facilitators during the training described the "One Stop Center" as a place where rape survivors are given the required services and medications; maintaining that those services are free of charge.
She called on participants to join the fight in end the culture of impunity by SGBV cases to the authorities and not to compromise them.
"I have been telling the participants that when SGBV is reported, nobody should treat it as an ordinary domestic case", Madame Worluba indicated.
She however cautioned: "They should take the survivor to the requisite authorities where medical examinations, counseling and treatment will be accessed while the family pursues the case. We do not have a 'One Stop Center' in Nimba County, but we are hoping that our partners, the EU Spotlight Initiative and the UN system will help our government to set up this center in the remaining counties to fast track the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes in our country".
For their part, two of the participants, the Nimba County Coordinator of the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection, Madam Yaa Belleh Suah and the Acting Prison Superintendent at the Sanniquellie Central Prison, Charles Mahn lauded the EU Spotlight Initiative for the training.
Speaking to journalist Madam Suah recommended that in addition to the training, there is a need for government and its partners to give mental health issues a top priority.
"Come to think of it... Grown men who rape under age children, do you think they are mentally well?? Even, under age male children who tape their female 'age mates' need mental rehabilitation so they do not grow up seeing nothing wrong with raping. So I am recommending to national government to pay keen attention to mental health in Nimba County", Madam Suah urged.
Mr. Mahn pointed out that the main challenge at the Central Prison has been over crowdedness caused by pretrial detainees who are brought on charges of sexual violence.
To address the problem, he recommended speedy trial and the inclusion of 'reintegration package' for inmates who have been placed on parole in order to be useful citizens once they are released.
"Like that, they won't return to crimes and drugs", he emphasized.
The training was organized by SGBV-Crimes Unit at the Ministry of Justice along with support from the UNDP under the Spotlight Initiative Program to eliminate violence against women and girls.
It brought together 51 Criminal Justice Chain Actors including 24 males and 27 females from several line ministries, governmental institutions, civil society organizations, and Traditional Council Leaders from several districts of Nimba County.
The objectives were to build the capacity of criminal justice chain actors in responding to SGBV cases and harmful practices, empower justice actors to ensure that gender issues are mainstreamed and create a platform for networking and sharing information among stakeholders.
Joseph Solo, Jr. Contributing Writer, Joseph Solo, Jr.